Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist has a style which satisfyingly combines two very different aesthetics: the funky and the sophisticated. He's been compared to keyboardists and composers Andrew Hill and Sun Ra, but his approach is more closely rooted in bassist Charles Mingus' work as a leader. Where Mingus' rhythmic and emotional foundation for composition and arrangement borrowed from gospel and the blues, Gilchrist's draws from those music's more recent offspring: hip hop, Washington go-go and funk. Like Mingus, Gilchrist layers the rhythmic bed with harmonically adventurous horns, and his own all-over-the-keyboard piano. His horn section, three saxophones and two trumpets, retains a raucous, downhome flavor while simultaneously, and magically, evoking Igor Stravinsky and contemporary classical composer Heiner Goebbels' dalliances with dissonance and angularity. It's a fierce and compelling synthesis.
Soul Progressin' is Gilchrist's third album with his eight-piece band the New Volcanoes, following The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (Hyena, 2004) and Towards The Shining Path (Hyena, 2005). His most recent release was Three (Hyena, 2007), made with bassist Anthony "Blue" Perkins and drummer Nathan Reynolds, both members of the New Volcanoes.
Perkins and Nathanwhose funk and soul curriculum vitae includes a spell in singer Wilson Pickett's bandlay down reiterative grooves from which Nathan only rarely deviates, while Perkins takes a looser approach in which the bootalicious funk of classic-era Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins is writ large. Perkins' extended solo on the moody "Come Get Some" conjures up Collins at his wildest, framed by a broiling, harmonically dissonant horn arrangement which at times sounds like a newly discovered fortissimo passage from Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring (circa 1913).
This tension between the edgy and the good-time runs through most of Soul Progessin', hitting the head and the feet with equal force. Only the title track and "Uncrowned" deviate, and they're on a short rein. "Soul Progressin'" is unadorned funk, in which the horn section comes closest to a straightforward Stax or James Brown sound. The track is given character by Gilchrist's pumping, theme-centric solo and a growling, post-Cootie Williams trumpet workout from either Mike Cerri or Freddy Dunn. "Uncrowned" is for unaccompanied piano, and is dedicated to the late Andrew Hill.
The music's edginess is tinged with a feeling of anger and impatience, at its most powerful on the 9:35 "Those Frowning Clowns." The title, Gilchrist's liner notes explain, refer to "years of official lies and needless war (by) the current leadership." Mingus would almost certainly be enthusiastic about Lafayette Gilchrist, who's moving the music forward without losing sight of either its past or its potential for bringing about social change.
Soul Progressin'; Between Us; Come Get Some; Uncrowned; Those Frowning Clowns; Detective's Tip; Many Exits No Doors.
Lafayette Gilchrist: piano; John Dierker: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Gregory L Thompkins: tenor saxophone; Gabriel Ware: alto saxophone; Mike Cerri: Trumpet; Freddy Dunn: trumpet; Anthony "Blue" Jenkins: bass; Nathan Reynolds: drums.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.